Dining at it's very finest.
If you have read my Great Fosters Hotel tip, you will know that I simply rate it as the best hotel I have ever stayed in. I continue to stay there regularly and it remains superb. Strangely enough though, until a couple of days ago, I had never actually eaten in the restaurant, except for rather wonderful breakfasts. I am so glad I rectified this ommission.
The Oak Room is the name of the restaurant, and it is a magnificent setting. Decor is simple, but it does not need to be anything more as the room itself provides the ambience. It is located in the 16th century hotel, with a large open fire at one end. I suggest you take a look up at the superbly restored wooden roof, a true testament to the carpenter's craft. It is stunning.
I fully expected the service to be of the highest quality, and was not disappointed in that respect. Both my companion and I are smokers and were having a pre-dinner drink and cigarette on the terrace ovelooking the beautifully tended gardens. The maitre d' duly appeared on the terrace to take our order, after we had perused for some time. A msuician I deeply admire called Fish once penned a line "trapped in the indecision of another fine menu" and this was indeed a problem, everything looked so good. I'll tell you what I eventually plumped for later!
Wine is always a problem for me, as I know absolutely nothing about it, and freely admit that fact. My companion, fortunately, is more knowledgeable, and we chose a very light Bordeaux at the suggestion of the maitre d', a Frenchman who obviously knows about and loves wine. It proved to be an excellent bottle and not overpriced considering the surroundings.
With no rush at all, we were shown to our table (coincidentally the one we normally choose ourselves for breakfast) and were treated to a selection of no less than five warm homemade breads, of which the rosemary and the mozzarella were standouts for me. This was followed by a "chef's gift" of a quail Scotch egg, which was extremely tasty.
On now to the meal itself. I had chosen a pressing of sweetmeats, mushroom and foie gras as a starter. Yes, indulgent I know, but it was a special occasion, and I do like a little luxury now and again. The intensity of flavour was outstanding and complemented perfectly by the beetroot and pear (an inspired pairing if you will pardon the pun) with which it was served. I also tried some of my companion's curried scallop, which was equally delicious. I had been worried that the curry spices would have overpowered the delicate flavour of the scallop, but it was done beautifully.
If the starter was outstanding, the main course was, if anything, even better. I had opted for the lamb, served with a vine tomato filled with cheese, tiny potato balls and samphire. The samphire was a fiirst for me and I had always associated it with fish and seafood but it worked superbly with the perfectly cooked lamb. Truly, an outstanding dish.
Never a great sweet eater myself, we decided to move straight to the cheeseboard. Well, in truth it was, as the French have it, a "chariot du fromage", a trolley laden with a top class selection of cheeses which the knowledgeable waiter was happy to explain to us. He was happy to serve us with a varied selection and although all good and served at exactly the right temperature, the pick for me were the Exmoor Blue and the Livarot, a French cow's cheese from Normandy. The cheeses were served with a selection of obviously home made crackers, again showing the attention to detail so evident here.
The head chef Simon Bolsover has previously worked in a number of high-class establishments including Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Raymond Blancs world famous establishment, and it certainly shows. He and his staff are to be commended on an outstanding restaurant.
Certainly, it is not cheap, the bill for two as described being about £160 (about $240 US at current rates) but for a special treat it was certainly worth every penny.
Absolutely recommended. I have only eaten here once, and the menu changes seasonally, but the lamb as described above was simply magnificent.